Monterey Herald reports on John A. Calhoun speech.
By DENNIS TAYLOR Herald Salinas Bureau Article
The path to peace on the streets of Salinas and elsewhere where gang violence is a problem begins with a community effort to instill a sense of hope in young people.
That’s the message delivered Thursday by author and crime-prevention expert Jack Calhoun and five other speakers at Rancho Cielo Youth Campus, home base of a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping at-risk youth.
Calhoun, author of “Hope Matters: The Untold Story of How Faith Works in America,” told a crowd of about 200 that a key to quelling unrest among young people, including gang violence, is to get involved in their lives, help them believe in their own worth and give them reasons to feel hopeful about their futures.
The philosophies were endorsed and bolstered by a parade of subsequent speakers: Salinas Mayor Dennis Donohue, the Rev. Tony Ortiz, who is California’s Youth Outreach director, Monterey County Chief Probation Officer Manuel Real, Salinas Valley Chamber of Commerce Chairman Luis Alvarez and Judge John Phillips, president of the Rancho Cielo Youth Campus.
“I’m really excited about your mayor’s vision of a city at peace,” said Calhoun, who served 20 years as CEO of the National Crime Prevention Council. “Most people frame their response to the gang issue, the violence issue and the delinquency issue around fear.
“Yes, we’ve got to jump on the difficult. Yes, the most violent have to be dealt with.
“But if our response is built around fear, that’s short-term, and Draconian, and Advertisement we’re spending all of our money on the back end of the system, as opposed to programs like Rancho Cielo, early childhood education, family work and others.”
He applauded several of Donohue’s ideas, including programs to ensure that all third-graders can read (dropouts are eight times more likely to wind up in the criminal-justice system), as well as his plan to mobilize community members.
“I remember one pretty tough kid telling me, ‘I’m not afraid of jail, I’m not afraid of the cops … but don’t tell my grandmother,'” Calhoun said.
The key to solving the problem, he said, is to involve all key stakeholders.
“The more we ask law enforcement to do, the more we have failed,” he said, suggesting instead a blend between prevention, intervention and law enforcement.
“As parents, what do we do? We set limits and we nurture. We do both,” said Calhoun, who shared a story about a grandmother he saw poke her finger into the chest of a notorious troublemaker.
“You’re the reason I can’t shop. You’re the reason my grandson can’t ride his tricycle. You’re the reason I can’t rock on my front porch. If you continue this, I’m reporting you,” she told him as she handed him her phone number. “But you can call me any time, day or night.”
Another crucial avenue is to begin to work on state policy, Calhoun said, recognizing that communities generally are dealing with limited resources. He said cities that are experiencing success with gang-prevention and youth outreach are thriving because of a united approach that is moral (“It’s going to stop here”), bureaucratic (mobilizing the city) and conceptual (proceeding with a plan). Equally important are blending together enforcement and services, tracking results and “getting into kids’ lives.”
“And so many of these kids don’t want you in their lives because they feel ugly, unloved, unlovable, untalented, and they feel like if they let you get close to them, you’re going to find a mess. And they don’t want you to find that mess.”
Calhoun said he studied young people who became successful against the odds and came up with characteristics they had in common. Each had a goal, a discernible skill or talent, the support of an adult through good times and bad, optimism and altruism — a feeling of responsibility for somebody other than themselves.
“Don’t look at what people have gone through as crippling. It’s potentially a source of tremendous strength,” he said. “Yes, your mother uses crack. Yes, your father left you. Yes, you’re dyslexic. We need to know those things.
“But the essence of our work is to believe that each kid has something incredibly special to offer, and part of our role is to bring it out.”
Ortiz, a former drug addict and gang member, won the California Peace Prize for founding the state’s Youth Outreach Program and is a nationally recognized gang-intervention specialist.
“I remember running the streets, and all the chaos and gang-banging, all the pain and sorrow I experienced during the first 30 years of my life, when I was in and out of institutions,” he said. “I know what it is to lose hope. People were always encouraging me to get an education, get a job, and I know what it is to scoff and laugh when people talk to you about the American dream, and all you can see is poverty, and addiction, and abuse, and all of the other things that don’t really fit with what they’re saying.”
That creates a mindset — “What’s mine is mine … and what’s yours is mine” — which leads to more anger and violence, he said.
Alvarez said the Salinas Valley Chamber of Commerce is, among other things, working with local businesses to create jobs for at-risk youths.
Judge Phillips announced the creation of a scholarship fund named in honor of Andres Alcala Jr., an eight-year employee of the Monterey Bay Aquarium who died May 25 from gunshot wounds he received on the streets of Salinas. For information about the scholarship or the Rancho Cielo Youth Campus, call 444-3503.
Dennis Taylor can be reached at email@example.com or 646-4344.